Baseball is sometimes called “the game of the ages.” Unlike football, basketball or soccer, there is no clock and the two teams continue to play until there is a winner.
In theory, the game could go on forever.
On April 18, 1981, two minor league teams met for an early season game of no real consequence. It was AAA baseball, a step down from the major leagues. The Pawtucket Red Sox were playing the Rochester Red Wings at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, RI
On the field were future Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, Jr. and 20 other players who all hoped to make it to the big leagues.
The longest game
A new documentary from ESPN’s 30 for 30 and Radio Diaries tells this story and features the voices of the game’s central figures.
Dave Koza was Pawtucket’s first baseman.
“To be a part of AAA, you’re just one step and 40 miles from Fenway Park,” Koza said. “If you keep playing hard, maybe you can make it to the top.”
It was a cold night, 45 degrees with a strong wind blowing straight from center field, which made scoring difficult. At the end of 9 innings, the game was tied at 1. And it stayed that way into extra innings.
Worcester Red Sox
Bob Drew was doing play-by-play for WPXN Rochester Radio. His fiancee, Linda, was listening at home and set up a small tape recorder to catch his voice on the airwaves – creating the only known recording of this historic game.
The two teams played after midnight, following a league curfew, until the early hours of Easter Sunday morning. Both teams scored in the 21st over and they played on.
Pawtucket manager Joe Morgan was ejected in the 22nd inning and the game continued. The few fans left in the stands were tired and hungry, so the concession stands began handing out free food and coffee.
The players were so cold that they started fires in metal waste bins and burned their broken sticks. The night reached 2 o’clock in the morning, and the ball players were still playing hard, line after line.
“There’s a pervasive hunger throughout the night,” said Dan Barry, one New York Times journalist and author of End of the 33rd. “Everybody on the field, everybody wants to make it to the major leagues. Those who have already been to the major leagues want to come back. Those who have never been can’t wait. But also managers want to manage in the major leagues. The leagues. The umpires want to get to the major leagues. They’re eroding it all.”
At 4 am, after 8 hours of play, he had reached the 32nd rank. Pawtucket General Manager Mike Tamburro finally got on the phone to the league president, who instructed the umpires to suspend the game.
Two months later, on June 23, 1981, they picked up where they left off – headlining their 33rd tour, but this time in front of a sold-out crowd of nearly 6,000 and dozens of journalists from around the world.
Boston Globe/Boston Globe via Getty Images
In the bottom of the 33rd, Pawtucket’s Dave Koza stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs. He hit a single to left field, driving in the winning run.
“For a day, Dave Koza was the king of baseball,” says former Pawtucket GM Mike Tamburro.
Although Koza never made it to the major leagues, his bat and his portrait made it to the Hall of Fame as the hero of baseball’s longest-running game.
You can listen to the full story of the longest game ESPN’s 30 for 30 Podcast. It features the voices of players Cal Ripken, Jr., Wade Boggs, Dallas Williams and Dave Koza. As well as Annie Life, Mike Tamburro, Tony Manners, Linda Drew, Bill George and Dan Barry, who wrote a book about this game called End of the 33rd.
This story was produced by Nellie Gilles of Radio Diaries, and edited by Deborah George, Ben Shapiro, Joe Richman. The senior editorial producer was Eve Troeh and the line producer was Cath Sankey.